NSA Warrantless Surveillance: When Did The US’s National Security State Begin?

Analysis

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In the modern, and now postmodern era, there no-doubt have been issues that were much-ballyhooed as front page news, but that should not have generated such prominent coverage, nor have been viewed as such a revelation.

But perhaps the public disclosure of the National Security Agency’s collection of hundreds of millions of phone records of U.S. citizens, and audio/video/e-mail/photographic and Internet searches of foreign nationals overseas, and possibly some U.S. citizens – contends for the top of the ‘it-shouldn’t-be-viewed-as-such-a-revelation’ list.

In Privacy Vs. Security, Security Has Won Almost Every Time

Here’s the inconvenient truth: Data collection on U.S. citizens has probably occurred for decades.

Here’s another: In the privacy vs. security battle, at least in the modern/postmodern era, security has won almost every time.

Here’s a third: Your U.S. government is engaged in other activities that you probably would not approve. However, included in these are selected clandestine activities, operations and programs that protect national security and, long term, will have been deemed in the national interest. (Underscoring, selected or some programs have protected national security - not all.) In other words, in today’s postmodern United States, we live in a modified national security state. And it’s been in place for decades. Yes, decades.

(And, oh, one can hear the hue-and-cry from Tea Party faction members now, but that cry is deceptive, and ultimately, ineffectual. The Tea Party’s ultimate goal is not the protection of civil liberties and civil rights - exactly which U.S. Voting Rights Acts do Tea Party members back? – but lower federal income taxes and a much smaller federal government. Tea Party members also don’t want to pay for government programs that benefit others, and they oppose the modern social welfare state. So don’t look for some all-out civil libertarian, ACLU-worthy effort from the Teas: it won’t be led by them.)

Three Case Studies…And There Are Many Others

Now, one can deny that the U.S. is a modified national security state, but to help end that denial, one should review: 1) Journalist Carl Bernstein’s thorough and impressive study of the relationship between the CIA and U.S. media during the Cold War years; 2) the conspiracy theories about U.S. government attempts to assassinate then Cuba President Fidel Castro, which turned out not to be theories; and 3) the disastrous 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, which, far from being favored and directed by the U.S. president, was forced on the U.S. president by an element within the national security state - a monumentally unconstitutional and blatantly insubordinate act by this element toward their commander-in-chief.

And those are just three data points. There are many, many others. Here’s one: Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura asserted in his book, “Don’t Start the Revolution Without Me,” that in 1999, shortly after taking office as governor, he was asked by the CIA to attend a meeting with CIA agents at the state capitol. Now why, you may ask, would the CIA, whose primary focus is the collection and analysis of information about foreign threats to the United States, want to interview a newly-elected Midwest state governor, which, the last time anyone checked, was a domestic institution, not a foreign one? Gov. Ventura wondered the same thing. Ventura said the CIA’s questions concentrated on how he campaigned for office, or as he wrote in his book, “how had the independent wrestler candidate pulled this off.”

Ventura claimed there were 23 CIA personnel at the meeting. So far, no has been able to corroborate that 23 personnel attended, but the CIA did confirm to Minnesota Public Radio that it did meet with Ventura in 1999 after his election.

Point: We live in a modified national security state. And during this era, security has trumped privacy, almost every time.

When Did The National Security State Begin?

Given the reality of the modified national security state, one important question is ‘when did it start?’ I.E., when did security start to trump privacy, on a regular basis?

The political science and history literature is mixed, but the analysis from here argues that the republic, and for that matter American democracy, began to decline on November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.

On November 22, 1963 the United States’ visionary, popular leader was brutally murdered. Further, although Kennedy was a cold warrior and a hawk on defense at the start of his presidency in 1961, by 1963 Kennedy was moving quickly away from his previous hawkish and other status-quo stances by:

-advocating a withdrawal of U.S. advisors/troops from Vietnam

-working for détente with the USSR / to end the Cold War

-trying to begin the normalization of relations with Cuba

-promising to “scatter the CIA to the four winds”

-trying to end the oil depletion allowance

-opposing the CIA in the 1961 Bay of Pigs

-opposing the CIA in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

-firing Allen Dulles and Richard Bissell from the CIA

-standing up to Corporate America in the US Steel strike.

In September 1964, the Warren Commission concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, fired three shots from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository building in Dealey Plaza in Dallas and assassinated President Kennedy, while also wounding Texas Gov. John Connally, and one bystander. Accused assassin Oswald never stood trial: two days after Kennedy was murdered, Oswald was murdered by Dallas strip club owner Jack Ruby as Oswald was being transferred from police headquarters to a county jail.

Many assassination researchers reject the Warren Commission’s conclusion, arguing that through omission and/or commission, the committee’s investigation was deeply flawed. The problem is, there’s still not enough hard evidence to determine what really happened in Dallas on November 22, 1963 and it is that gap - including the failure to make public all U.S. government documents on the case - that has led to a condition in which it’s both difficult to accept the Warren Commission’s conclusion and report - its incompleteness is one reason it is implausible - or to construct a better one.

Some critics will argue that the national security state was propelled not by the end of the presidential administration that was likely to implement changes the national security state apparatus did not want, but by the Soviet Union and the threat communism posed. The problem with that thesis is that: 1) the Soviet threat was never as serious as the U.S. defense establishment claimed and 2) the national security state has outlived the Cold War by almost 25 years. Further, the subsequent wars - Iraq I & II, and Afghanistan - despite the national security state apparatus’s claims, have weakened, not strengthened the nation. They may have richened the coffers of defense contractors, but they diverted precious national resources away from vital social and economic investments, to the nation’s detriment. The rise of China is another consequence of the U.S.'s poor resource choices: China is a threat today, but the threat is economic, not military, due to the U.S.'s under-investment in its economy and society.  

Another undeniable fact that underscores the policy shift that occurred due to November 22, 1963: since President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, not one U.S. president has advocated a major change - including a much-needed massive cut in defense spending and a restructuring of the intelligence community - to the national security state apparatus. Not one. President Richard Nixon (president, 1969-74) did try to establish a rival intelligence agency inside the White House - Nixon did not trust the CIA - but his plan failed to come to fruition, due to the Watergate scandal, and his subsequent resignation.

The Postmodern United States: In Which Direction Will It Go?

Since the events in Dallas on November 22, 1963, Americans have lived under a modified national security state, and the result has been a series of wars - a nearly perpetual war state - that, the interpretation here argues, has served the national security state apparatus, but in most cases did not make the nation stronger: Vietnam. Pause, with a huge Cold War defense build-up. First Iraq War. Pause. Second Iraq War. Afghanistan War. What war is next?

Moreover, walking hand-in-hand with the modified national security state and the questionable wars has been - you guessed it - the chipping-away/erosion of privacy, on national security grounds. Hence, after learning about the dominance of the national security state apparatus over the past nearly half-century, news of the NSA’s data mining program should not come as a surprise.

O.k., so you’re a hard-working, income tax-paying John or Jane Citizen, and you say you are troubled by the National Security Agency’s data collection on Americans? And you wonder what other clandestine programs the NSA or other government departments and agencies are involved in that you would be concerned about or oppose?

And, at minimum, you say - there should be elected public official oversight and accountability; and that under most circumstances, government agencies should not have the power to implement these programs without Congressional approval? And that you agree that the national security state apparatus must be decreased substantially to put the public interest first and achieve true national strength via a strong economy and just society? Well know that your efforts, when combined with the efforts of other public interest advocates, can lead to more public accountability in government, but also know that the battle to take back control of public policy from the national security state apparatus will be a long, hard, and complex one. And there’s no more telling example of how long and hard that struggle for public accountability can be than the events of November 22, 1963.

For more than 40 years, assassination researchers have filed and petitioned for the making public of key U.S. government documents relating to the assassination of President Kennedy.

But too often the national security state apparatus’s answer has been the same: at this time, the documents can not be made public, due to national security.

 

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